It’s A Kind Of Magic

(Apologies – the original Movable Type layout of the below has been mashed and pics lost by the MEN’s move to WordPress)

HARD to believe, but Queen singer and legendary showman Freddie Mercury would have turned 60 next month.

To mark the date, ITV1 will screen A King Of Magic, a documentary celebrating the life of the man who helped define popular culture in the 1970s and 1980s.

It will include interviews with Mercury’s mother Jer Bulsara and sister Kashmira Cooke – and never before heard audio interviews with Freddie, who died in 1991.

ITV say that after long negotiations they have also obtained “unparalleled and exclusive access” to Freddie’s close friends, including boyfriend Jim Hutton, who I interviewed three years after Freddie’s death.

The documentary includes contributions from Queen drummer and co-writer Roger Taylor, plus celebrity fans Robbie Williams, McFly and Mike Myers.

The TV team also travelled to India, where Freddie was brought up, for interviews with his childhood friend Zahid Abrar, filmed at their old school and favourite childhood haunts.

Twelve years ago, I met Jim Hutton (pictured below with Freddie) in a Knightsbridge hotel and didn’t quite know what to expect. The subsequent feature has never appeared online.

MEN November 4 1994:

IT’S a kind of magic.

Freddie Mercury filled stadiums with it. He was a man touched by genius, killed by Aids.

Millions of fans adored him. Still do.

But the lover he described in private as my husband remained hidden from public view. Irishman Jim Hutton was picked up by the Queen singer in a gay club. Six years later Jim watched as the virus took its terrible toll.

Jim’s voice is quiet as he talks about the last days at Garden Lodge, the Kensington mansion where he found a crazy little thing called love. “I’m still going through it. Anybody who’s lost someone near to them knows that it’s a very slow, healing process.”

Jim is HIV positive himself. He had a secret Aids test three years after Freddie broke the news of his own diagnosis but kept the result from Mercury until he was close to death. “I felt that he didn’t need that burden. He really had enough on his own plate, he didn’t need that as well.”

Mercury died on the evening of Sunday, November 24 1991 in the arms of the former Savoy Hotel hairdresser. “It was a relief, I suppose, but also a great loss. The suffering is finished. It is a slow, wasting, more than anything else. That’s the horrible thing about it.”

Freddie was possessed by one of those electric talents which forces the world to sit up and take notice. Yet Jim had never heard of him. The £70-a-week barber was drinking with his, then, lover in a gay club when Freddie first approached him in 1983. “I told him to sling his hook.”

But Mercury didn’t forget and kept a watchful eye on Jim. In 1985 they met again. “I didn’t know who he was. I may have read stories about him in the press but I’d just read them and throw them in the bin. I may have heard Queen’s music but it just didn’t register.”

Their relationship soon developed and eventually Jim moved in, although he was fiercely independent and insisted on keeping his job.

One Saturday he came home from work in his suit. Freddie and friends were watching a live TV concert and getting very excited. “Freddie just said, ‘You ready yet? We’re going to Live Aid.’ I didn’t know that Queen were involved in it.”

Jim was driven to Wembley and watched in amazement from the wings as Mr Mercury stole the show at possibly the greatest live gig ever staged. Later that night Jim confessed his secret, telling the singer, “It’s the first time I’ve ever been to a concert.”

Shortly before he died at the age of 45, Freddie, frail and wearing thick make-up, made his last video for the single These Are The Days Of Our Lives. The lyrics, I suggest, are almost unbearably poignant for ordinary fans, let alone the man left to mourn a deep personal loss. Jim answers but his voice trails off: “Obviously it’s a poignant one for me. I was actually in the studio when the video was made.”

Jim, 45, has finally written about their life together in Mercury And Me, published this week. You could mistake him for Saddam Hussein in the book’s cover picture and at least one Cruise missile has already been launched in his direction.

Freddie’s one-time lover and oldest friend, Mary Austin, now lives at Garden Lodge. She inherited it along with most of the rock star’s fortune. Mary is reported to have criticised Jim for kissing and telling, claiming the intensely private Mercury would not have approved.

He takes a slow drag on his cigarette and explains why he decided to write what is, in fact, a moving and honest account of their relationship. “The book, really, is for me. It’s helped me to, I suppose, cope with Freddie’s loss. I think when you sit down and start writing it down, things come out that you’ve really blocked out.”

He also wanted to correct some of the stories in the press. All the fans had to go on was what they had read in the papers. “They said Freddie died alone, there was nobody there, which would be a horrific way to die. We all got annoyed that the mighty Queen organisation didn’t move in and deny certain statements. Some of it was pure fiction.”

To the outside world Jim had been the superstar’s gardener – his handyman. Only friends knew him as a special man about the house.

Within two days of the singer’s death, a writer was on the phone offering a deal for the inside story of Freddie and Jim: “That was very, very insensitive.”

Jim says he harbours no animosity towards Mary, although he believes his own departure from Garden Lodge could have been handled with more dignity.

He felt snubbed by her at the funeral, was banished to an annexe and eventually had to leave the place he loved to make way for her housekeeper.

He’s not bitter. There are too many happy memories to allow anything else to intrude. The parties, the quiet nights in and their first meetings.

How will he spend the third anniversary of Freddie’s death later this month? “I do know where I’ll be, yes. I won’t be doing interviews. I know where I’ll be for a period of time.”

Jim is well aware that he might live for just one year or another 50. There is no way of knowing if and when he might develop full-blown Aids “I’m not afraid. I still pull a lot of strength from Freddie’s strength. He really was very, very strong in the way he handled his illness.

“To coin one of Freddie’s old phrases, ‘Oh, get on with it.’ And I think that’s what he would actually say if he could speak to me from wherever he is now. He would say, ‘Please get on with life. Life is for living.’ And, you know, it’s true.”

Click here for the official Queen website and here for more on Freddie Mercury.